FROM COMMUNE TO COPYWRITER: ETAN NECHIN
WNW Member #2960 Etan Nechin grew up in an artist commune in Israel. He started his career as a musician but after getting injured in a surfing accident found himself writing. Less than a year later, Etan packed his bags and headed to London. And thus, a copywriter was born. Etan describes his upbringing as "Fellini-esque" and marvels that his entire village could fit in one subway car. Being the son of an artist, and one who straddles the worlds of art and commerce, Etan has strong words about the source of creativity:
"I think the most important lesson is that creativity is not a gift, it is a skill. My dad raised three kids with his art. It is not about finding that moment when the muse hits. Fuck the muse! She’s a fickle one. Always gone when you need her, always there when you brush your teeth two minutes before you go to bed. Creativity is simply a way of looking at the world from different angles. The more open you are, and the more you work on it, the better creative you’ll be."
Tell us your story! Who is Etan Nechin and how did you get here?
If I could describe where I come from in one word, it would be Fellini-esque. I grew up in an artist village in the northern part of Israel, and when I say a village, I mean that in my regular New York morning commute, there are more people on one subway car than in all of my village. Professionally my first creative gig (music) was with a fringe theater group that years later I also did sound design for. I was 7 and performed on the flute in one of their shows. Even got paid!
I was a professional musician before I started writing. I got injured in a surfing accident and couldn’t play for a year, so I thought to myself, “What the hell else can you do?” So I started writing. My first paid writing gig was for a blog about baby names!
I went to art school in London, concentrating on writing and film. There I wrote for magazines. One of my editors always criticized me because my headlines were too pithy (which I guess was a sign.) When I finished my degree, I met a producer in Berlin who brought me to New York to write a film. That’s how I met fellow WNW member Nathan Avila, who was a Creative Director at a small shop in the city. For some reason, he hired me as a freelance copywriter. That was the first time I was in an office. I was 28.
Advertising was a weird and foreign world to me, but I liked it. After creating a campaign for the movie Ted, they let me go and I started to look for another gig. But I had no real portfolio to speak of. So I found a recruiter at mcgarrybowen online and sent her a postcard I found in a junk shop. I can’t remember what it said, but it was on a cheesy postcard from a Sheraton in Helsinki in the 1970’s. To my surprise I got a call two weeks later. I was at mcgarrybowen for a year and a half, working on campaigns for Verizon, 7up, Droid, and was on the team that won Maserati (yay fast cars!)
So I guess I’m creative by default. It’s like if you come from a family of bankers, or republicans—you just can’t help but becoming one yourself.
How did you start freelancing?
I left mcgarrybowen in December 2014 and have been freelancing ever since. I love freelancing because it allows me to work in amazing shops and do big campaigns, as well as projects that are not advertising-related. I published short stories in literary magazines, which led me to a summer graduate program at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. This year I took some time off advertising to work on a script for a performance-installation piece for the Slovenian Pavilion at the Venice Biennial. It was amazing!
I guess that's what makes me creative, and that’s why I love freelancing so much. Freelancing is not a job—it is a state of mind. It’s getting excited every time you step into a new unknown office, not really sure what you’ll be working on, not really knowing the culture of the place, not knowing who your partner is. It keeps me on my toes, and lets me challenge myself creatively. That’s how I find inspiration: by meeting new people, discovering new ways of thinking, and finding new ways of communicating to different audiences, from car enthusiasts to upper-middle-class Chinese families (I worked on a pitch for a Sony handheld camera for the Chinese market.) I can’t fathom going full-time ever again.
With your artistic background, how does advertising fit in?
Advertising for me is a great hybrid of creativity and communication. It is a challenge to find that right balance between being insular or too broad. That is what I try to do in my work.
What are some of your favorite things you've worked on?
I am always looking for the next project that will excite me. My two favorite advertising projects couldn’t be more dissimilar. The first is a sound installation I did for Maserati, and the second is a campaign that was a spoof on the Winter Olympics starring Kevin Hart.
Enough of the professional stuff, what do you do when you're not hustling?
When I’m not working I surf, travel, grow tomatoes on my roof, and try to learn new languages. At the moment it’s Spanish. It’s going muy mal.
What lessons can be learned from growing up in an artist village? Any particular stories that shaped you personally and professionally?
I think the most important lesson is that creativity is not a gift, it is a skill. My dad raised three kids with his art. It is not about finding that moment when the muse hits. Fuck the muse! She’s a fickle one. Always gone when you need her, always there when you brush your teeth two minutes before you go to bed. Creativity is simply a way of looking at the world from different angles. The more open you are, and the more you work on it, the better creative you’ll be.
The downside to an artist village is that it's a small-ass place and everyone gets into everyone else’s business. Secondly, artists can be self-absorbed, small-minded egomaniacs. In one gallery opening, I swear I overheard someone saying to their friend, “The art’s shit, but the cheese plate is amazing!” That’s how you spot a real artist. They won’t be admiring the pictures-- they'll be hounding the free wine.
After you got into a surfing accident, what was the impact of not being able to play music?
That was a pretty dark time. When you no longer have the main tool for you to communicate with the world, you shut down. I simply severed my connections to my musical past, worked in bars, and did nothing. After a year of just meandering, I came up to visit my parents. I stayed there for almost a month just reading, swimming in the ocean, and started writing again, this time with the intent of making something out of it. I went back to Tel Aviv, somehow applied to schools in the UK (till this day I don’t know how…), and was accepted into this really great art school. I took out a loan and left Israel four months later. I haven’t played professionally since then but recently I was thinking of kindling that part of my life again.
How did your family react to you leaving for London?
I was living in Tel Aviv at that point and basically I just up and left. I had to get some distance, find my own voice, as a writer, creative, and person.
Which films and filmmakers have most influenced you?
Oh wow, ok. So when I was growing up in Israel, there was only one channel on TV. 100% rating! Every Friday night they showed a movie, usually a classic. Also, we had like ten video cassettes we would watch over and over again. So basically I grew up on The Marx Brothers, Mel Brooks, all the epics (Charleston Heston is the man.) In the past few years I really got into Kusturica, who tells stories like no other.
In your nomadic life, where do you feel most “at home”?
I think I feel most at home wherever I manage to build a small community of friends, when you are past that “let’s get together for drinks” phase, and can just call each other in a moment’s notice, just to hang out. That said, last year while in Iowa, there was a war in Israel. The tranquility of the Midwestern air just strengthened the feeling of being so far away from my family who still live there.
Bonus round time! Two truths and a lie:
1. I dropped a tray of champagne glasses in front of of the Duke of Edinburgh (the Queen’s husband), while working as a bartender in London.
2. I was bitten by a viper, was allergic to the anti-venom and was in an induced coma for almost a month.
3. While shooting with Kevin Hart, I saw he was wearing a really dope sweater. As he was doing one of the scenes, I noticed the sweater just lying there. So I grabbed it (Kevin, if you are reading this, yes, I DO know where your sweater went!)
Last things you Googled:
1. New comment shortcut on Microsoft Word (Microsoft Office, you are the worst!)
2. What Zeppelin album “Kashmir” is from
3. Neckbeards (I did not know so many people walk amongst us sporting that awful awful look)
4. Things to do in Beacon (My parents were in town. They were on vacation which meant that I was on duty.)
Other WNW members you admire and why:
1. Yomar Augsto - motherfucking talented illustrator. I love his energy. He’s always on, positive. I think he sleeps an hour a night.
2. Mark Lowe and Russell Heubach - These cats, along with Mark Koelfgen (Mcgarrybowen CCO), took a chance on me, challenged me to be better, to really think not only about what I thought was cool, but also to listen to the client, and guide them to where you think they should be. Also, they always pick up the tab!
In one word, describe each city you've lived in:
1. Ein Hod, Israel - Feral
2. Tel Aviv - Kaleidoscope
3. Washington, DC - Why?
4. Berlin - History-channel-with-a-techno-soundtrack (I know, I know.)
5. London - Pints
6. New York - Tinnitus
What advice would you give to your high school self?
Take what comes naturally, focus, and fuck what everybody else thinks. Also, that girl who you think looked at you during lunch but you're not really sure because your friend told you that she likes some other guy? Yes, she did. So get a haircut and go talk to her!